Fair Work First: guidance to support implementation

Update September 2021: this guidance has been updated to take into account the two additional criteria on flexible working and fire and rehire practices. The updated guidance is at .

Fair Work First Criteria: What It Means In Practice

In considering how each of the criteria can be applied, employers should take account of their organisation's context. This will include the type of organisation, its size, sector, and location, as well as how much progress has already been made in adopting fairer work practices. The approach should be progressive, relevant and proportionate.

Appropriate channels for effective voice, such as trade union recognition

What This Means

Effective voice is much more than having a communication channel available within an organisation. It requires a safe environment where dialogue and challenge are central to the organisational culture, are dealt with constructively, and where employee views are sought out, listened to and acted upon, and can make a difference.  Effective voice requires workers, employers and trade unions or worker representative groups to work in partnership to make sure the right decisions are made to ensure workers are treated fairly and equitably.  The co-determination of working practices is key to delivering all of the dimensions of Fair Work effectively.  


Effective voice channels improve information sharing and problem solving, encourage innovation, support cross-learning and can resolve conflict. Effective voice through trade unions can lead to the development of effective HR policy in relation to pay, working time, holiday arrangements, training, health and safety and flexible working that delivers positive outcomes for workers and for employers. While recognising that systems of collective bargaining differ widely internationally, there is evidence[1] that countries with higher rates of trade union membership and collective bargaining coverage experience high employment rates, strong productivity growth and rate well on international indices of competitiveness and innovation.

Good practice examples 


  • Involving trade union/employee representatives in key governance and decision-making structures.
  • Recognising trade unions for the purpose of collective bargaining and encouraging membership, where this is the workforce's preferred route, and providing appropriate facility time for supporting regular engagement between union/s and members. 
  • Constructive dialogue between the employer, workers and where appropriate a relevant trade union/s to address workplace issues or disputes, e.g. absence management, grievance, health & safety.

Structures and surveys

  • Regular surveys are carried out to understand worker views, including how well they feel effective voice is facilitated in the organisation, and are involved in agreeing and progressing improvement action.
  • Formal and informal arrangements are in place through which meaningful individual and collective dialogue take place, including one-to-ones between workers and management, appraisal/feedback processes, team/organisation meetings;
  • Appropriate collective consultation and a clear route for resolving issues at both individual and collective levels, such as through a grievance or collective disputes procedure.  
  • The organisation promotes a strong culture of openness and transparency and encourages acceptance of different viewpoints.


  • Regular supportive contact is offered through one-to-one conversations with managers.
  • Employees' experiences are used to influence organisational policy and practice, e.g. how their terms & conditions affect them and any barriers women and minority ethnic and disabled people may be experiencing.
  • Worker representation on boards is sought and welcomed.

Conflict Resolution

  • Dealing with issues/concerns which have been formally raised fairly in a timely and constructive manner and which promotes confidence that, whatever the outcome, fair processes have supported fair resolution.
  • Appropriate measures are in place to support dignity in the workplace and implement zero tolerance of workplace bullying and other forms of abuse and harassment.

Investment in workforce development

What This Means

Effective workforce development involves employers providing opportunities for their staff at all levels of the organisation and should be a shared responsibility and shared commitment between the employer and workers. Everyone should be able to engage in lifelong learning.  


Organisations that invest in the skills of their workforce can generally expect their workers to add more value, provide a better service, achieve higher levels of productivity and be more resilient and responsive to change.

Talent management is crucial, even when labour markets are in flux. Talented job seekers are more likely to apply for roles in organisations that are committed to developing their people for current and future roles. Fair Work should therefore be built into employer's recruitment and retention processes.

Investment in workforce development can also build a more engaged and fulfilled staff; and equal access to training is important in advancing equality at work and closing pay gaps. When people can continue to learn and develop, and use their skills and talents to add value, they gain a greater sense of control over their work and scope to make a difference.  This helps build their confidence and self-belief, improving individual and organisational wellbeing. 

Good practice examples 

  • Learning & development is integrated in the organisation's strategic planning and workers and management jointly identify development needs and priorities, ensuring both individual and organisational needs are met.
  • Regular equality and diversity training is provided for all staff.
  • Learning & development opportunities are provided, and regularly reviewed, to help build the organisation's resilience and responsiveness to change. 
  • Managers have development discussions with individuals and teams and prioritise this as part of operational activity.
  • Workforce Development Plans and Succession Management Plans are in place.
  • Formal and informal learning is offered across the workforce, relating to people's particular role and wider development.
  • The organisation is committed to providing apprenticeships.
  • The organisation is committed to supporting the Young Person's Guarantee.
  • Staff are supported to keep their professional qualifications up-to-date.
  • The organisation has an appropriate charter mark achievement such as IiP or EFQM.
  • The organisation invests in and utilises the skills and knowledge of union equality, learning and other workplace representatives and resources.
  • Constructive engagement with union learning reps and Scottish Union Learning activities.
  • Carbon literacy training is provided for all staff.

No inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts

What this means

Although there is no legal definition of a zero-hours contract, in the context of Fair Work, such a contract is one which does not guarantee any work to the individual and does not set out a minimum number of hours (whether ongoing or for a set period).

An employer is likely to be using a zero-hours contract inappropriately if:

  • they offer a worker a regular pattern of work or regular number of hours but offer only a casual/zero-hours contract;  
  • a worker has had no say in the zero-hours contract and actually wants a contract of employment guaranteeing a minimum number of hours;
  • they put pressure on a worker to accept the terms of a zero-hours contract (where challenged) in order to keep their job;
  • there is an expectation that workers will accept all hours offered but no reciprocal expectation that the employer will guarantee hours of work.

Those employers using zero-hours contracts should be able to credibly explain their exceptional circumstance which leads to them using such contracts and the steps they are taking to review their business model to eliminate these circumstances.  


All workers should be able to plan for their work and life, to know when and for how long they will be required to work, and how much they can expect to earn from week to week. This is key to reducing in-work poverty, which disproportionately affects women. It can also alleviate uncertainty and anxiety, helping to protect workers' wellbeing.

As well as being the best option for individuals, the use of secure contracts can benefit the employer. For example, the employer is likely to be regarded as being fair and an employer of choice, which can help with recruitment and retention.  Equally, an employee who has a secure contract is likely to be more committed to the organisation and its objectives, which can boost their motivation and productivity.

Good practice examples 

  • All staff are employed on open-ended or fixed term contracts with confirmed hours and work pattern.
  • All staff have a contract which accurately reflects the hours worked, guarantees a fair minimum number of hours per week and does not involve compulsory overtime.
  • Staff get reasonable notice of shifts – at least 4 weeks ahead of time, and are paid for cancelled shifts within this period.
  • Core and flexible staff resources are reviewed at least annually to determine if any staff on a zero-hours or minimum-hours contract can be moved to a permanent or fixed-term contract with a fixed number of hours and/or a regular pattern.
  • Zero-hours contracts are not used to the detriment of workers with protected characteristics and where this is happening, the organisation is taking remedial action.
  • Zero-hours contracts are not used to fill actual longer-term vacancies.
  • There is a clear, published policy and process to enable someone to request a move from a zero-hour contract with guaranteed and set hours.

Action to tackle the gender pay gap and create a more diverse and inclusive workplace

What this means

Fair Work expects employers to go beyond their legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010, enhancing the protections for workers on the basis of their agedisabilitygender reassignmentmarriage and civil partnershippregnancy and maternityracereligion and beliefsex, and, sexual orientation

The gender pay gap exists because women earn significantly less than men over their careers. As women are still regarded as the primary care giver, their work choices can be limited to typically lower-paid and part-time roles. This also limits their opportunities to progress in the same way men can, which dilutes diversity at senior management levels. The Close your pay gap toolkit provides a range of guidance and advice to help employers calculate their gender pay gap and identify actions to reduce it.  

Employment can play a major part in addressing racial inequality. The gap in employment rate for the minority ethnic population in Scotland is consistently and persistently high. Through fair working practice, minority ethnic workers will be able to access and sustain employment commensurate with their skills, experience and/or employment goals and in working environments that are diverse and inclusive. Employers should use the Minority Ethnic Recruitment Toolkit  to improve the diversity of their workforce by recruiting more people from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Disabled people also experience discrimination and a lack of access to opportunity. We need to ensure our workplaces are not designed or operating in ways that can create barriers and exclude disabled people.  Fair and equal access, and the provision of appropriate support, can greatly improve disabled people's chances, enabling access to jobs, job retention and career progression. Information about employment issues for disabled people is available from Inclusion Scotland through We Can Work and from Scottish Union of Supported Employment (SUSE)


By taking action on the gender pay gap and to improve diversity and inclusion, an employer can tap into a rich source of available talent and potential. This makes good business sense and enables people to build a career now and for the future.  It can also highlight current practice and areas for change and intervention, helping to create a culture of equality and diversity in the workplace and benefiting workers and employers alike, such as:

For employers

  • Increasing diversity and the gender balance in leadership roles leads to better decision making, improved performance and higher profitability across the organisation. 
  • Positive relationships and diverse teams can generate creativity and innovation, helping to improve productivity, profits and business growth. 
  • Workforce diversity helps organisations to better understand and meet the needs of a diverse customer base; this can give them a competitive advantage in attracting a wider pool of customers who see themselves reflected in the workforce composition.

For workers

  • Simple improvements to the workplace environment and practice convey a positive message about the organisational culture employers wish to create, and help ensure employees feel supported and valued.
  • Workers' mental health and wellbeing can improve if their employer introduces practices that support a good work-life balance or systems to tackle bullying and harassment.  
  • The importance and value of cultural diversity can be improved through equality and diversity training and other positive action.

Good practice examples

  • Recruitment, retention and promotion processes prevent bias and barriers, e.g. 'blind' recruitment; providing any additional support/adjustments at interviews; diversity in interview panels; exit interviews are used to understand why a person is leaving.
  • Workers have opportunities to influence the organisation's approach to workplace equality, including by sharing their own experiences.
  • The organisation gathers data to understand its workforce diversity and has a plan in place to address under-representation. 
  • Governance structures are gender balanced and the organisation is working to ensure parity for minority ethnic, disabled and younger people.
  • Workplace adjustments are made for disabled staff who need it, e.g. Access to Work.
  • Flexible working is encouraged across the organisation, subject to business need.
  • Enhanced maternity, parental and adoption leave and pay are available for all staff, and staff are supported to return to work through keep in touch days and refresher courses. 
  • Everyone has equal access to appropriate learning & development opportunities.
  • All staff have opportunities to discuss their support needs with management.
  • There are clear career pathways for women, with support for those returning to work after a career break and to help minority ethnic, disabled and older workers to progress.
  • The organisation is a recognised Carer Positive employer.
  • Employers are able to provide safe spaces for workers to express their concerns and raise issues and where workers are confident that their concerns are dealt with appropriately by trained personnel. 

Payment of the real Living Wage

What this means

The Scottish Government promotes payment of the real Living Wage as the minimum rate for everyone in paid work; this is distinct from the statutory National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage which are set by the UK Government.  The real Living Wage is a voluntary hourly pay rate based on what families need for an acceptable living standard.  The rate is calculated by the Resolution Foundation and overseen by the independent Living Wage Commission; it is reviewed annually to reflect the cost of living, and the rate is announced each November.

Payment of the real Living Wage should not be used to limit pay rates, and where sectorally bargained rates have been agreed these should be applied provided they are not below the real Living Wage.


Enabling people to earn a decent income will help them to have a decent standard of living and is the best way of tackling poverty.  Low wages are a prime cause of in-work poverty, along with the increased use of zero-hours contracts and other precarious practices.

Research from the Living Wage Foundation shows that 93% of Living Wage Businesses have benefited since accrediting. 86% of their respondents said it has improved the reputation of their organisation and 75% said it has increased motivation and retention rates of employees. They also reported a 25% drop in absenteeism. Paying the real Living Wage can help businesses attract new workers and skills: the Living Wage Foundation also reported that 93% of students want to work for employers who pay at least the real Living Wage. Currently, two-thirds of workers earning below the real Living Wage are women – by paying the real Living Wage an organisation can reduce their pay gap significantly.

Payment of the real Living Wage can make a material difference to workers and their families, enabling them to access greater opportunities, with less need for worry about affordability.

Good practice examples 

  • Having an agreed pay structure which means the whole workforce is paid at least the real Living Wage;
  • The organisation is recognised as a Living Wage Accredited Employer or an All Time Service Provider;
  • Applying the pay rates collectively bargained between the relevant employer and trade union negotiating body; 
  • Apprentices are paid at least the real Living Wage rate throughout their apprenticeship.
  • The organisation is part of a local partnership working towards Living Wage Place recognition.
  • The employer is actively reviewing the pay structures and developing an incremental plan for paying all staff at least the real Living Wage. 

Note: * those involved in procurements should refer to the Statutory Guidance, Best Practice guidance and toolkit to understand how to consider fair pay for workers, which can include payment of the real Living Wage, in the procurement process.



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